Volatile Substance Use

Volatile substance use (VSU) is the intentional breathing in of chemical substances by a user to feel drunk, buzzing or excited [23505]. Because the user breathes in (or inhales) the chemical substance, these substances are also known as ‘inhalants’. Other terms include ‘petrol sniffing’, ‘chroming’, and ‘huffing’. Some every-day products that are used for sniffing include:

  • deodorant
  • air freshener
  • lighter fluid
  • fly spray
  • petrol.

Inhalants have different effects depending on the way they are inhaled, what type of inhalant it is, how old the user is, and what gender they are [23505]. The effects of sniffing inhalants include:

  • tiredness
  • feeling nauseous
  • irregular heart beat
  • memory loss
  • loss of consciousness
  • feelings of wellbeing.

Inhalant use can lead to sudden sniffing death [20888]. Sudden sniffing death can happen when a person who has been sniffing does some exercise, or is stressed or scared (because this puts extra pressure on their heart).

There are some long term harms that can come from sniffing inhalants, including:

  • brain damage
  • damage to the liver, kidneys and heart
  • muscle weakness
  • depression [23505].

VSU is a problem for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous people. However, the evidence shows that the rate of VSU is higher in marginalised population groups, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. This can be partially explained by higher levels of unemployment, poor health and wellbeing, and the availability (and low cost) of inhalants [1645]. For detailed information about VSU prevalence and other statistics, please refer to our latest Overview of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health status.

While rates of VSU among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population are still high in comparison to the non-Indigenous population, there have been decreases in recent years, especially around petrol sniffing, which can be linked to the introduction of low aromatic fuel (LAF) [33610].


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Rain Meets Creek, Creek Meets River, River Meets Sea by William Miller

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